So, I changed my return flight.  Rather than return Tuesday, May 25th.. I’m returning Tuesday evening, June 1st.  So my blog-vacation is extended until June 2nd or 3rd.  Hope everyone is enjoying their summers!

In all probability, I will not be posting again until Wednesday, June 2nd.

Tomorrow, I’m getting on a plane and heading to Tennessee to visit family.  I will be seeing my parents, siblings, the Nashville Parthenon, and hopefully this adorable face:

That’s my niece, daughter of my favorite brother.  (I am allowed to have favorites, right?)

Even though I grew up in middle TN, I am open to recommendations for book stores, yarn shops, restaurants, whatever.. in the area between Nashville, TN and Florence, AL.  I already hope to go to:  Bookman Bookwoman Used Books and Haus of Yarn (both in Nashville).  Bookman used to be my very favorite bookstore, until I moved to the Midwest and discovered Chicago’s Myopic Books, which is open till 1 AM most nights.

Tuesday, I will be heading back to the airport and I hope to safely see this:

That’s the Chicago skyline, as seen from the plane the first time I flew in.

I will leave you with only one book for Friday Finds this week, but it is one I’m quite excited to have found.

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier was reviewed by Heather over at “Age 30+ … a Lifetime of Books” last Friday.

She says:

“I was fascinating by the history of fossil hunting and the way accepted “facts” about fossils were beginning to change. The newly developing ideas of an ancient earth, the concept of extinction, the budding conflict between religion and science – all these topics were fascinating to me. Then there was the situation of women in society, the class distinctions, the concepts of property and propriety … there was just so much in this book that I loved!”

I’d seen this book around before, even admired the cover art, and then dismissed it completely for some reason.. without even reading a synopsis.  What kind of book lover am I?  Even though I’m not a huge historical fiction fan (okay, I haven’t actually tried a lot of historical fiction), Heather’s review made this one sound fascinating.  The storyline sounds great, the writing sounds great.. it all sounds peachy.  I’m going to try to get my hands on this one soon.

Have you read Remarkable Creatures?  Thoughts?  Link to your review?  Any recommendations for fun TN stuff to do?  Let me know!

Friday Finds at Should Be Reading

(Friday Finds is a weekly meme hosted by MizB over at Should Be Reading.)

(A scan of my actual copy of East of Eden)

I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents.  Some you can see, misshapen and horrible, with huge heads or tiny bodies; some are born with no arms, no legs, some with three arms, some with tails or mouths in odd places.  They are accidents and no one’s fault, as used to be thought.  Once they were considered the visible punishment for concealed sins.

And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born?  The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg and produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?”

East of Eden is not a subtle book. I usually like subtle. Philosophy is bluntly spoken, not intricately woven in.  It is Good vs. Evil, in your face.  There are biblical references out the whazoo.

But it isn’t black and white.  Good doesn’t always triumph, and when it does, someone still gets hurt.

This is a family saga, or perhaps a dual-family saga, or perhaps a region saga.. is that possible?  This is the story of the Trasks, destined to replay the story of Cain and Abel, whether in Connecticut or California.  It is the story of the Hamiltons, the large Irish family in California, jovial and tragic.  It is the story of the Salinas Valley, hot and fertile and set in its ways.

I shared a scan of my exact copy of the book because it seemed to hold a strange power.  When I opened it, I saw all of California spread out before me.  Then I zoomed in slowly, past fields and mountains… finally reaching the Salinas Valley.  There, I sat unnoticed in a corner,  watching two familiar families intertwine, pull apart, grow, falter.

Literally.  That’s what it was like. I got sucked in. I didn’t like all of the characters. They each had their flaws, their strengths. But even the ones I didn’t like.. I enjoyed reading about. I think this might be the first book of this size (700 pages in my old, thick, mass-market paperback) where every page was important, where every interaction was significant and yet.. part of everyday life. Many of the characters live their whole lives in the pages of this book, so I began to feel like they were intimate friends.

So yes, read it.  And then.. read about it. While the Trask family is made up, the Hamilton family is based off of Steinbeck’s own relatives. He wrote it for his sons, to let them know where and who they’re from.  Pretty cool.  And it’s going on my ‘favorites’ shelf.

Have you read East of Eden?  Did it draw you in as well?  Did the lack of subtlety bother you?  Is The Grapes of Wrath just as fascinating?  Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

 

It’s Teaser Tuesday – hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

My first teaser:

“‘Like all good Bangalore stories, mine begins far away from Bangalore.  You see, I am in the Light now, but I was born and raised in Darkness.”

From The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (pg 11).  This was recommended to me by a geography professor.  When I brought it home from the library, Ryan read it and enjoyed it.  So far, so good.

 

Another teaser:

“. . . she would have despised the modern idea of women being equal to men. Equal, indeed! she knew they were superior.”

From Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell.  I’m not actually reading this right now, but I read the first part of it recently in my British Lit class and …

Allie (at A Literary Odyssey) is hosting a Cranford read-along in June.  I’ll be joining, and would like to invite you to consider reading along with us.  Full details can be found at Allie’s blog.

Over the next few weeks, I will be slowly revealing to you the handful of books that I read again and again and again.  I will not so much post reviews, as a series of bookish memories.

There are many books I’ve read twice, but if I read a book thrice or more, I feel like the book has somehow become part of me.  The few books I’ve read time and again are eclectic, and I re-read them each for different reasons and at different times.  I will reveal them in no particular order, as they are each so ingrained in my life that I can hardly place which came to my life first or last.

See that copy of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca in the middle?  It is beautiful, printed in 1938, deckle-edged, and just smells of time.  I purchased it just under a decade ago, in a second-hand book shop, for 50 cents.

I did not know it at the time, but this was destined to become one of my very favorite books.

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

So goes the famous first line.

“It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter for the way was barred to me.  There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate.  I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.”

Those lines, the first time I read them, did not have the haunting effect they do now.  I longed to know the name of main character, which du Maurier never reveals.  It was years later when I realized that it doesn’t matter.  She was a nobody until she met Max de Winter.  Afterwards, she was Mrs. de Winter.  Those are her identities.  We are not given her name because it is unimportant.

Mrs. Danvers chilled me, and still does.  I can’t quite recall how I pictured her throughout the first reading, but these days she is a formidable, terse version of the Mrs. Danvers in the Hitchcock film version of Rebecca.

The lady who owned the second-hand book shop where I purchased this copy and I were great friends (or so my 16-year-old self thought).  We leant books back and forth, shared recommendations.  She would not give me my copy of Catch-22 back until she had found her own.  I would never have read Heinlein had it not been for her thrusting a copy of Job: A Comedy of Justice in my hands.

Her shop only stayed in town for a few years.  That small, southern town had few residents who would go out of their way to frequent it.

It was small, and the front room was filled with mysteries and a small section of mass-market contemporary fiction.  Past that, a similarly-sized room had a section of horrors (mostly King), a hodge-podge shelf of fantasy and sci-fi, two shelves of classics below eye level, and farthest back.. a towering bookcase of red Harlequin romance novels.

Every once in a while, I still find a bookmark from that shop shoved between the pages of one of my books.

Over the years, I gathered 5 other du Maurier books from second-hand shops, all printed around the same time, none as beautiful as Rebecca.  And I’ve read two of them.  None have the staying power of Rebecca either.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve turned to this book; perhaps once a year since I first purchased it.  I’ve not purchased a newer copy, and so this old, yellowed book has become quite familiar to me.  The front board could use a bit of glue.

But each time I open it, inhale it, finger it’s uneven pages, I am carried far away to a place I relish.  A place the 16-year-old me finds comfort.  Manderley, and an old bookshop.

Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book was the most recent choice for my campus book group, and the group was overwhelming pleased with the read.  I, however, was more pleased with the listen.

Having recently attended a Gaiman reading in Chicago, I found some of his short stories to be fabulous when he read them.. even though I didn’t like them when I originally read them in print.  So, I downloaded a sample of this on my nook, but ultimately, I decided it’d be much better with his voice and rhythm.  I was right.

The story: When the man Jack sets out to murder an entire family, only the wandering toddler escapes.  He leaves the house, toddles down the hill and through the bars of the graveyard gate.  Happily, a ghostly couple adopt the child, name him Nobody, and he is raised in a cemetary with ghosts for friends, tutors, and guardians.  But why was the man Jack out to kill him anyway?  And why is he still looking for him?

The folks in my book group thought it might be a bit scary for its target audience, but I think they’re underestimating children.  I loved horror books as a child (so much that the school librarian worriedly called my mom, actually), and while this one has a couple of scary scenes, it isn’t really a horror, and it isn’t terribly graphic.

It was cute, well-written, and with Neil Gaiman’s voice, it was just a pleasure to listen to.  And while it was good, and I would recommend it (especially on audiobook), I think it had more potential.

There were so many half-explored ideas that left me wanting more.  The other world.. with the ghouls, what was that like?  How are ghoul gates created?  I want to know more about the night-gaunts.  And the danse macabre.  And the stuff with Jack (being vague to avoid spoilers).  And the Honor Guard.  And the Sleer.  And..

I wonder if there’s fanfic.  A coming sequel?  A book of short stories than Neil Gaiman will write, just for me, to answer all these questions?

Neil Gaiman has created a fascinating world of ideas.  A world that, if fully explored, could fill a Harry Potter length series.  And he shoved it into one short book.

And I want more.

Have you read The Graveyard Book?  Were you left feeling satisfied, or wanting?  Did you think it was too scary for kids?  Know of any good fanfic?  Comment, and let me know!

 

Friday Finds is a weekly meme hosted by MizB over at Should Be Reading. Each Friday, bloggers are invited to post about potentially great books we’ve heard about/discovered this week.

Here are my finds:

The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff.  Jennifer reviewed this over at Rundpinne.  She says: “The reader is introduced to Greta and Einar Wegener, both painters yet with differing subjects, Greta paints portraits and Einar paints landscapes, yet each is devoted to supporting the other’s works, dreams and desires. In 1925 Greta needed Einar to don a pair of hose and shoes to finish a portrait, since Anna had canceled yet again, and during this session Lili was born. Ebershoff’s novel is very loosely based on the first transgender surgery performed in 1931 on artist Einar Wegener who became known as Lili Elbe.”

I have to admit, I’ve known about this novel since it first came out 10 years ago.  Because I bought it.  And read it.  I bought it for the cover (a different one, a painting), which was beautiful.  Only I was around 14 or 15, and so I’m not sure how much I was able to get out of it at the time.  So I’d like to read it again.  Thanks, Jennifer, for the reminder.


Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon by Chuck Palahniuk.  This was reviewed over at Fizzy Thoughts.  She says: “there is also plenty of information about where you can go to watch (and participate in) lewd movies (seriously people, there’s some weird shit happening in Portland), where to stay if you’d like to see a ghost, how to talk like a local, Santa hijinks, how to eat at the Apocalypse Café, and what Katherine Dunn (yes, the author of Geek Love) thinks of her fellow Portlanders (is that the right term?).”

 

I’d never heard of it, and I’m not really a Palahniuk fan.  (Okay, I’ve only read Fight Club).  But I am a fan of Katherine Dunn, so I’d like to pick it up just for her thoughts.


A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.  This was reviewed by Matt over at A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook.  He says: “A Fine Balance is a roiling swirl of humanity. Adopting the voice of an epic rather than polemic, the novel captures the sufferings of the outcasts and innocents who try to survive the “State of Emergency” in 1970s when, under Indira Gandhi, India becomes a country ruled by thugs who maim and kill for money and power. It depicts a time when bribery is rife, starvation ubiquitous, and artificial calamity incessant.”

 

I’ve seen this book around, and the cover both intrigued me and put me off, but I never really looked much farther than that.  Matt’s review put this firmly on my “to-read” list.  Thanks, Matt!


The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  This was reviewed by Carolyn at A Few of My Favorite Books.  She says: “At first it seems to remain just a normal sweet little English story, but gradually it ventures into some very unexpected ground, that seems much more like a Victorian sensation novel! […] For a while it becomes almost eerie, Emily seems trapped in this beautiful English country house, pregnant, with her husband gone off on a business jaunt to India, while the people who would have inherited her husband’s estate if he hadn’t gotten married or if she hadn’t gotten pregnant, come back from India and scheme to get the inheritance anyhow…”

 

My first book review on this blog was of Burnett’s The Secret Garden, which I just love.  I was unaware that she wrote any adult novels, and I’m really looking forward to seeing if it’s just as enjoyable.

Upcoming: Review of The Graveyard Book tomorrow, and East of Eden review to follow in a few days.

I’ve had a run of stinkers… bad enough to dislike, but not interesting enough to devote a full review to.  So here’s a brief run-down of 3 books to avoid:

Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu.  Written 25 years before Dracula, this novella presents a female vampire.. twice.  I’m not sure what the author was thinking when he spent half the novella describing one girl’s encounter with the vampire Carmilla, then the next half describing the vampire doing the exact same thing to another girl, so that the reader was subjected to the rather boring depiction twice, but there ya have it.

I picked it apart for my term paper on the treatment of women in Dracula and Carmilla, but it was so vague that almost any feasible claim could be made about it.


Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon.  Victorian sensationalism, and another one for my British Lit class.  To be fair, this one wasn’t as bad as Carmilla, but it was still pretty lame.  George Talboys runs off on his wife, Helen, to make his fortune in Australia, and when he comes back he finds only her obituary.  Robert Audley is taken with his uncle’s lovely new wife, but her past is a mystery.  Oooh.. what has really happened to Helen and from where did Lady Audley spring?

While it is rather interesting to see how it plays out, it takes 450 pages to do it and.. well, not that much happens.  For sensationalism, it was sure boring.  However, we “simulated the Victorian reading experience” by reading it in chunks of 32 pages each Wednesday.  This might have added to the “omigod is this ever going to end and why is nothing happening” feeling.


Mister Pip by Llyod Jones.  I thought this YA novel would be a quick, easy, and interesting follow-up to Great Expectations. On some tropical island, war erupts and most of the white people flee, leaving the natives to fend for themselves.  One white man stays.. and he takes it upon himself to become schoolmaster, though he’s had no experience with it.  One of his primary lessons is reading aloud.. a chapter each day from Great Expectations, and Mister Pip chronicles the effects of war and words on these native children.

Except it was shoddily written and boring.  I know I’m supposed to love it because it depicts the power of storytelling and all that jazz, but I just could not finish it.  It was awful.  It’s gotten a lot of good reviews, though, so maybe it just wasn’t for me.

I’m hoping that this run of stinkers is over.  I’ve got some good stuff lined up.  I’ll be finishing East of Eden soon, Palimpsest (which we’ll see about..), then I’ve got Fingersmith and The White Tiger in the line-up, along with whatever next hefty classic falls off the shelf.

 

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

  • My teaser:

    “‘The evil and ugly, the distorted and slimy, the worst things human can think up are for sale there.  The crippled and crooked come there for satisfaction.”

    From East of Eden by John Steinbeck (pg 352).  I’ve had this one on the back-burner a while due to classes, but I’ve picked it back up and am getting through it rather quickly now.

     

    Another teaser:

    “He began, instead, to sketch the patterns of the grid on his wife’s leg in the margins of the errata copies, invading neat lines about the essential nature of trains and their conductors with serpents and winds.  When Lucia dressed to go out in the evening, he begged her to stay, to crook her knee for him, to let him touch the stain, the grid, the map.”

    From Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente (pg 32).  I’m about 70 pages into this one and still unsure how I feel about it.  It was on the Hugo Award shortlist this year, but didn’t win.

    To play along with your own teaser, post your link or share you teaser in the comments over at Should Be Reading.  And share your links with me, too.  I’d love to read your teasers!

    Musing Mondays is hosted by Rebecca at Just One More Page.

    Today she asks:

    “Do you have to carve out time in your day for reading (due to work and other obligations), or does your reading just happen naturally? (Question courtesy of MizB)”

    I never really schedule my reading time.  Most of my reading gets done between my last class for the day and dinner; the time spent depends on how much homework I have to do, but I almost always have time to read for a little while at least.

    If Ryan’s really into a book, it’s easier to get reading time in after dinner because we’ll sit and read together.

    And, of course, I listen to audiobooks as well which allows me to sneak in “reading time” while I’m driving, knitting, cleaning, etc.  There’s not a certain hour of the day when I always feel like reading, so I’m glad I don’t have to try and schedule time for it.

    What about you?  Share your Musings Monday link with me!